Monday, November 24, 2008


“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.”- Abraham Lincoln

Soft skills have been evolving as an interesting discipline. There are many definitions related to soft skills. Some call them as life skills or non-domain skills. And some call the same as success skills or people skills. Soft skills are collection of certain skills like interpersonal skills, team spirit, social grace, etiquette, negotiation skills, motivation, time management, conflict management, change management, presentation skills, attitude building, leadership skills, assertiveness, taking continuous feedback, etc; Abraham Lincoln was smart at these skills much long back. In this context, let us see how the soft skills were effectively used by Lincoln.

He was good at communication skills both in written and in oral means. He had the habit the maintaining diary and wrote the ideas and insights that came across to him as he believed that a short pencil was better than a long memory. He had the ability for speech writing and it helped him tremendously to communicate orally at ease. In many debates he communicated eloquently and won the debates. Lincoln was more known for winning in several debates which were the milestones in his career. One of the most memorable one was the Gettysburg speech: "that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain--that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Another famous speech by Lincoln was "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." It was highly touching. He demonstrated his ability of communication by way of speeches, letters, and humor to the audience. It is one of the most important among the soft skills.

Lincoln had the ability to change himself with the changing times. He managed change effectively in his life as well as effected the changes in his functioning. From his several failures he changed himself a lot from various areas like business to law and finally to politics although he was basically from farming community. He reinvented and evolved himself from farmer to politician at ease. Change management is another important aspect of soft skills.

He maintained grace and etiquette well. Although he might have not worn aristocratic attire he was always dressed well neatly and maintained his grace. He was not good looking but his etiquette which was filled with modesty and compassion appealed the people. He was modest and unassuming. This is yet another aspect of soft skills.

He neither believed in the slogan of “I win and you lose” nor in “You win and I lose” but he just believed in the slogan of “We both win”. It reflected his assertiveness and win-win attitude. During the Civil War he believed in negotiations rather going for war but the then prevailing scenario compelled him to resort to war with the sole intention of the preserving the Union together. He believed in the concept of win-win situation for all. He was a patient listener which helped him demonstrate his negotiation skills time and again. It also helped him to become an effective negotiator with assertiveness. This is part and parcel of soft skills.

Lincoln was a trouble shooter. He had the knack of handling conflicts. Whether it was within the party or during the bickering after his initial defeat he sailed through. Through his persuasive skills he handled the conflicts at ease. During the Civil War, it was a tough job to manage divergent people with divergent ideas and ideologies. He pushed ahead with his pro-Union policies at ease which is an indication of his abilities as an effective manager of conflicts. He always came out with flying colors by managing the conflicts through tact and diplomacy. No other leader could have handled the conflicts the way he handled during his tenure.

He had great capacity for empathy. As a listener he empathized with others by stepping into their shoes. It helped him to understand the problems of the people. He was combination of sympathy and empathy. He was sympathetic to even Southerners who were opposing to his ideologies and he extended his hand despite their losing the war.

He was a very good time manager as he planned his daily activities in a systematic manner by avoiding time wasters. He created time for himself to read various biographies and selected works of writers. He also studied law at home by proper time management. He was punctual for the meetings and respected the others’ time by being in time always.

He worked in teams whether in politics or during the Civil War. In his political life he realized the importance of taking suggestions from his team members and worked with them effectively to ensure the success of the party. He made few mistakes during the Civil War during the selection of generals as he was not expert in military operations. He worked with them in teams and ensured the success of war. He demonstrated and displayed his team building skills both during war and peace. It is yet another important one among soft skills.

Lincoln liked in taking continuous feedback especially from his critics. He invited constructive criticism and improved the areas wherever he was weak without resorting to false-egoism. A friend may tell the good things and it may not lead to any improvement. On the contrary, Lincoln said a good critic can provide the right feedback for improvement and enhancement. However he made it sure that the criticism did not affect his self-confidence and that was how he balanced himself.

He was highly motivated as it would be clear from the background of his failures in his life. Anyone and everybody can achieve success when the going gets easy and especially after series of success. But it requires extraordinary energy and enthusiasm to move forward especially when the going gets tough. Motivation was the extraordinary trait of Lincoln that made him stand out from the rest of the leaders from America.

He had positive attitude and believed in looking for opportunities out of adversities rather looking for adversities out of opportunities. It indicated his optimism and the attitude towards his life and others. His attitude against slavery was clear. Right from the beginning he was against slavery and anybody who supported slavery he talked of applying the same on him.

The leadership traits of Lincoln are unique in many ways. He had the all the ingredients of courage, confidence, character, convictions and communication. He was the only leader who possessed the traits which no other American president possessed. He was a leader with various characteristics like motivation, inspiration, transformation, servant hood, democratic, creation, wisdom and charisma. Therefore, we can call him as an inspirational leader, motivational leader, charismatic leader, transformational leader, thought leader, servant hood leader, creative leader and democratic leader.

The importance of soft skills is being highlighted heavily now days across the world in all walks of life. But to our surprise Abraham Lincoln applied soft skills long ago.

Ordinary leaders have limited memory span among the people. The great leaders have unlimited memory span among the people. Leaders like Lincoln are legends in the history of mankind. He was rated as the most distinguished President among all the presidents of America. Leaders like Lincoln are born in the hearts of the people irrespective of nationalities.

Cutting across our nationalities, let us all salute this highly motivated and inspirational legendary leader – Abraham Lincoln, on the eve of bicentennial birth celebrations to be held in Feb 2009.


1 comment:

Peter Bowler said...

The Gettysburg Address is one of the major speeches that we use to highlight the skills involved in speech writing. It's brief, well constructed and highly memorable.
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